My husband and 10-year-old son went fishing this summer, and upon their return my son bounded in with enough fish to feed our extended family of 14, and then some. While beaming, he declared that although he enjoyed catching fish, he absolutely would not eat the ones he’d just caught. He explained that he would happily eat a fish bought from the store, but not one he saw swimming in the ocean hours before it hits the plate. I’ve got to love the boy and his feelings, but there went my mantra of eating close to the source.
When my son made this declaration, his friends asserted he should be a vegetarian since he has such a soft spot for fish. They quickly recategorized him as a pescetarian, until I clarified that a pescetarian actually eats fish, and often plenty of it. One girl in the group stated she has been slowly becoming a vegetarian, yet she still sometimes craves meat or will eat it when her parents tell her to. She asked whether there was a name for this type of eating and was excited when I told her she would be considered a flexitarian.
The kids then begged for labels describing each of their eating habits. Although I don’t believe we need to brand the way we eat, I shared a list of the different types of vegetarianism with them because they were so engaged.
The conversation got really interesting when the kids debated their favorite meats, their passion for animals and how cows should be treated. They wondered: If they loved animals so much, how could they also love meat? If they wanted to be vegetarian, did they have to eat tofu? And what does a vegetarian do at someone’s house when served meat? Is it rude to ask for something else? Great questions, kids.
I loved that these children were thinking about food in an active and healthy way. They are recognizing the foods they like, the ones they feel comfortable eating and the sorts that make them feel good. They weren’t talking about meat (or any other foods) as “bad” or “good” but as a choice. They weren’t proclaiming one correct way to eat; instead, they were thinking about their individual selves, beliefs, likes and dislikes. I certainly didn’t have this much food awareness or empowerment as a kid.
I suggested that the evolving vegetarian, and any other interested kids, pick up the book “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian.” Author and dietitian Rachel Meltzer Warren has some great advice for girls (and boys) who are curious about “going veg” or are thinking about their food choices in a more conscious way.
Warren advises kids on how to eat vegetarian when at a restaurant, sources “veg-friendly” colleges, and provides resources and recipes, all in a nonjudgmental, approachable way that empowers kids to find an approach to eating that works for them both nutritionally and emotionally, meat or no meat.
My favorite snippet of her book is the short paragraph titled “Find Joy in Food.” She says, “Contrary to popular belief, going veg isn’t about what you’re not eating — it’s about what you are eating.” So, if my son wants to eat fish that comes from a store, that’s great. Fishing season is almost over, anyway.
Conscious Carnivore: Eats meat but only when the animals have been treated humanely and the farming practices do not damage the environment.
Types of vegetarianism
Vegetarian: No meat, fish, or fowl, includes:
• Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Eats dairy and eggs.
• Lacto vegetarian: Eats dairy but not eggs.
• Ovo vegetarian: Eats eggs but not dairy.
Vegan: A lifestyle free of animal products, including dairy and honey. Often also forgoes leather and products made with any animal by-product.
Pescetarian: Eats fish but not meat or fowl.
Pollotarian: Eats fowl but not meat or fish.
Flexitarian: Only occasionally eats meat.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.
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